Friday, August 10, 2018

Stop signs can help us make the world a better place

Originally published at

Americans can take action to slow the decline of civil society simply by focusing on the ubiquitous stop sign.
If you’ve ever ridden a bicycle on city streets, you recognize that there are a ton of people driving while texting. It’s easy to see because a person on a bike can easily see down into people’s cars.
If you’re walking, you know how often people driving won’t stop for you in clearly-marked crosswalks. They either don’t notice you or don’t care, feeling smugly protected in their cages.
Meanwhile, everyone in cars sees people on bikes and foot doing things we deem as reckless (zipping in and out of traffic or not watching what’s in front of them on the sidewalk).
This all fits into a fascinating little brief commentary in the Glendale (Calif.) News-Press that horrifyingly documents the war zone that exists in the vicinity of stop signs.
Do you stop at stop signs? So few drivers do that Glendale posted temporary electronic signs informing drivers to “stop at stop signs.” What’s next: “breathe in and out”?
The other day I pulled up to [a four-way] intersection. Cars were at each of the four stop signs.
To my left was a car making a left turn. The next driver to go was supposed to be me. Just as I released my brake ready to enter the intersection, the car immediately behind the one that made the turn quickly followed right behind so closely that it appeared one car was towing the other.
It was one of those eye-popping “did that just happen” moments. There were at least five other drivers who witnessed that illegal and highly dangerous maneuver.
What was going through the mind of that man behind the wheel? Obviously, he did not give a whit about the rules of the road and was determined to shave off a few seconds from his commute — to hell with everybody else.
In what little research that exists on the matter, there is no correlation between getting moving violations and changing one’s driving habits.
The author goes on to make the suggestion that parents and school systems need to do a better of teaching the increasingly lost art of social responsibilities. Schools are definitely cutting funding for driver’s ed.
That’s one problem. It’s also a sure sign that, if there’s not as much education about how to drive as part of the rules of the road, there is almost certainly not much teaching going on about how young people should operate in an increasingly multimodal society.
Since police forces no longer put much time into ticketing people who run stop signs, one transportation demand management offshoot strategy is to petition local governments for street-calming measures such as speed humps, traffic circles, bike lanes (or, better yet, protected bike lanes), wider sidewalks (or, in many cases, any sidewalks), and many others.
On a hyper-local level, I’m leading a neighborhood charge in my city of Takoma Park, Md. Even though my street already has a nice sidewalk and stop signs that aren’t too far apart, we have noticed more and more of exactly what the journalist in Glendale details. Despite the high prevalence of kids playing and people walking, drivers constantly blow through the stop signs in front of our house. They seemingly don’t care or have lost the muscle memory be able to stop in the name of either the law or human decency.
All my crusade will take is 2/3 of the households on my block and the two adjacent blocks to agree to get the city to install a speed hump in front of my house. That equates to 12 households, which seems like a pretty easy task in the name of perhaps saving the lives of the kids on our street.
Even if my petition fails to get the required signatures, at the very least, I’ve informed my neighbors about the research that shows speed humps are a valuable addition to our transportation spaces.
As always, so much of TDM’s success hinges on getting infrastructure to adapt to new trends. Steps like my petition for speed humps is a perfect example of the importance of TDM, also known as transportation education.